Iran fired off another ballistic missile test Sunday, and President Donald Trump fired back with a Twitter salvo.
In a Thursday tweet, Trump said, "Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!"
In a follow-up, he added, "Iran was on its last legs and ready to collapse until the U.S. came along and gave it a lifeline in the form of the Iran deal: $150 billion."
Iran harrumphed back that "this is not the first time that an inexperienced person has threatened" the country.
On Friday, more incoming: The Trump administration announced new economic sanctions against several Iranian officials and entities involved in Tehran's missile testing program. That builds on previous sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.
In launching the missile, Iran presumably expected the usual round of sputtering and tut-tutting from Europe and the United Nations. What Tehran didn't know — but most certainly was seeking to gauge — was the response from President Trump. Iran's leaders — like North Korea's Kim Jong Un and, heck, every other leader in the world — have no idea what to expect from the blustering, often-contradictory Trump. Neither do most Americans, possibly including top aides. Trump harshly criticized the Obama nuclear deal but hasn't said much since taking office about tearing it up. (For the record, we're against that, absent a huge Iran violation.)
So what now? Before the Trump tweets, national security adviser Michael Flynn declared that "we are officially putting Iran on notice." Flynn also predictably blamed the Obama administration for appeasing Iran in the name of preserving its landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
Putting Iran "on notice" sounds like Dean Wormer's menacing but vague "double secret probation" from the 1978 movie "Animal House." We hope that warning came with private, specific threats of severe economic and diplomatic repercussions should Iran continue to launch missiles that unnerve the region, including U.S. allies Saudi Arabia, Jordan and particularly Israel. Recall last March, when Iran test-fired a missile inscribed with the phrase "Israel must be wiped out" in Hebrew.
Trump also said military action against Iran isn't off the table, a boilerplate response of presidents past. Well short of that, however, there are many other ways — economic and diplomatic — to slap Iran for its missile launches and aggressive support of global terrorists.
Trump needn't tread lightly for fear that Iran will abandon the deal. Its leaders won't. The regime is vulnerable to harsh economic sanctions. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei grudgingly negotiated a pact with the Great Satan because of stifling economic sanctions. Curbs of that severity, now largely lifted, won't be revived in a hurry, or probably at all. Chicago's Boeing is already selling planes to Tehran, and European companies are piling back into the country to do business.
But Trump and his Treasury Department still have power to make it hard for Iran to do business with banks and companies that want to do business with the U.S. That is, almost everyone. Any hint of a chill from Washington would spook Western companies. They already see Tehran as a risky place to hustle business. This is a regime that takes foreign hostages and extracts ransoms.
A new president confronts an old adversary. Stay tuned. More fireworks guaranteed.